“A friend and I decided between Woodstock and a weekend on Cape Cod. We chose Cape Cod. My husband, then a soldier stationed at Fort Devens, decided with his buddy between Woodstock and an adventure on Cape Cod. They chose Cape Cod. We met on Cape Cod and we’ve been married now for 47 years. Things go how they’re supposed to go.”
It’s hard to believe that it has been 50 years since everyone made their pilgrimage to a small farm in upstate New York for what was billed as a three-day music festival. No one at the time had any idea just how many young people would descend on Bethel Woods. The promoters thought 50,000 people would show up. More than 400,000 ended up there.
The summer of 1969 was a culmination of what we as a country were going through in the years leading up to the end of this remarkable decade. We saw the Vietnam War rage on; John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated; and the civil rights movement. This generation of young people was looking for answers to all unanswered questions, and what better way to bring people together than three days of music?
Tie dye was big and the hippie counter-culture was moving into the mainstream, even into Falmouth. During the summer of 1969 my mom took me to Bradlees to get navy blue bellbottoms with white polka dots and a cowbell. As a little kid I felt so cool!
Playing at the movies in Falmouth were “True Grit” starring John Wayne and “Easy Rider” with Peter Fonda, a dichotomy of what was going on in this country.
As I wrote in my previous article, with the moon landing and now Woodstock, this was one long, hot summer. To the older generation, what they saw was a bunch of dirty teenagers with ripped jeans and bare feet, but this generation thought they could change the world. The irony was that simultaneously, their peers, boys between 18 and 25, were fighting in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
A little history about the promoters: Michael Lang left New York University and moved to Coconut Grove, Florida, to open a head shop. In 1968, after promoting a series of concert events in the Miami area, he moved to Woodstock, New York, and met Artie Kornfeld. The two developed the concept for a major festival event to celebrate the 1960s social movements, and planned to open a recording studio in the town of Woodstock. With Kornfeld and partners John P. Roberts and Joel Rosenman, Lang set into motion the Woodstock festival, which was held on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, from August 15 to 18, 1969.
Michael Lang brought together musical acts both well known and unknown. Already famous Jimi Hendrix played his iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and relative newcomer Ten Years After put itself on the map with “Goin’ Down.”
Because no one expected more than 400,000 attendees, the people of Sullivan County, hearing reports of food shortages, gathered thousands of food donations to be airlifted to the site, including about 10,000 sandwiches, water, fruit and canned goods.
Wavy Gravy’s group, the Hog Farm Collective, which had been hired to help with security and other behind-the-scenes jobs, also stepped in to alleviate the food shortage, supplementing the concessions with free food lines serving brown rice and vegetables and, more famously, granola.
The most famous anthem of the weekend, “Woodstock,” was written by Joni Mitchell. Mitchell most likely could have, and would have, performed at Woodstock but her manager, David Geffen, made the decision that she would not join her peers on stage in Bethel, New York, where the officially titled Woodstock Music and Arts Fair was being held. Mitchell was booked to appear on “The Dick Cavett Show” the day after the festival, and Geffen took the calculated risk that it was more important for the singer-songwriter to get the exposure the popular national TV program would bring her than to sing for the hippies upstate, who might not even pay attention. Getting stuck in a traffic jam would not do her any good either, Geffen reasoned.
There was talk since February of Micheal Lang recreating a Woodstock 50 with the likes of Jay Z, Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus. Clearly, trying to add artists of the present to a smaller group of artists who are still living was dubious at best. There is no way something of this magnitude could capture the essence of what happened those three summer days on a little-known farm in upstate New York, a brainchild of a 25-year-old NYU dropout and the collective consciousness of a generation that sought to change the world.
“Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, ‘Tell me, where are you going?’
This he told me
Said, ‘I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land
And set my soul free’”